There's a lot to be rediscovered about the agricultural aspect of whiskey production. I myself have only begun looking at it. There are a number of heirloom corn varieties, some still grown. Pre-1900 there seems to have been different kinds of corn for different uses. Some corns were considered "roasting corn", others were "creamer corn", etc. The field handling was quite a bit different then too. A lot of the corn grown today to geared towards that modern sweet palate as well has corn that can be handled by a combine, and who knows how those different handling characters effected the product. I just had this thought: how did these different varieties work in the mash? My guess is they break up more easily than modern corn which might have been why the old timers could get those high grain to water ratios. (I also suspect that a good amount of their corn naturally sprouted, and gave extra enzymes to help with the breakdown and starch conversion. Needs to be tested with practice, however.)
Interestingly, much of the rye around here is all just "cover crop rye". The farmers don't even know if it has a variety name; it's just rye. Maybe rye wasn't differentiated so much.
So many experiments....
Cheryl Lins - Proprietor and distiller, Delaware Phoenix Distillery, Walton, NY